Last weekend I visited the spot of our first group event, the wonderful planters at the intersection of T and Vermont NW. I woke early on that Saturday morning and made my way to the garden, amazed at how quiet the U Street Corridor was at that hour. Apart from a few (insane) joggers, the world slept. But I? I was marching to do battle with weeds.
I arrived at the site and surveyed the landscape, pleased to see that nothing had died. All of our plants were still there, looking very much like they had the day we planted them. I began my familiar worrying at this, the lack of growth, curious as to why our plants were not flourishing when the ginormous weeds poking out between the sidewalk cracks were. I gave these weeds my best Stink Eye, jealous at their height and heft.
I stood there for a little while, staring at the petite plants, staring at the whoppin' weeds, staring at the plants, staring the weeds, the plants, the weeds, the plants, the weeds. My mind a'buzz with all of the possible reasons our plants weren't flourishing: bad soil, grubs, inadequate sun, soil acidity, not enough water, too much water, poor drainage, arsenic, lead, aliens, re-runs, the series finale of Lost, woe. My brain was doing that insanity thing that it does so well.
I took a deep breath and stopped the plant-size-freak-out midstream. Okay, so Lost is over, the Voyager 2 probe was abducted by aliens, and our plants were still wee and a bit scrappy looking. Let's look on the bright side. Dr. Who is airing new episodes and the plants were still alive, right? And though I am but a humble novice gardener, I know that alive and scrappy is better than dead and, well... dead. And also, the new Doctor is pretty great so while I miss David Tennant, I'm okay with Matt Smith.
But I digress.
I expertly navigated past the freak-out and began weeding.
I tore the heads off of anything that bit me, that looked too happy, too tall, too green, too weedy, or too sneaky. I ignored the little voice in my head that kept warning me that I was working on land that wasn't mine, that kept telling me I was trespassing. I tried to ignore the fact that I couldn't determine the difference between the weeds and the plants. ('Ello. Novice gardener, remember?) So in an act of defiance to my own insecurity, I sprawled myself out on the uncomfortable pavement, began humming, "This land is your land, this land is my land," and ripped out weeds.
I was seeing "below me that golden valley" when a movement to my right made me stop and turn. I looked up to see a man standing amongst our precious plants, his dachsaund squatting undecorously over the butterfly weed. I began blinking furiously, shocked at what I was witnessing. A dog. Pooping. Not five feet from where I worked. The dog's owner gave me a nonchalant nod and then walked off with his Number Two-making hound.
I kid you not, my gardening friends, my head almost exploded.
BRAZEN is what that was. Impudent. Shameless and disrespectful. That man watched me sweating over this tiny plot of soil and cared so little for it that he let his dog crap all over our hard work. I was incensed.
I was gearing up for a full-on tirade when I heard a little voice ask, "Dad, what is that girl doing?" I halted my mental yelling and looked up to see a curly-headed child staring at me with enormous Anime eyes.
"She's working in the garden," her dad told her, and then with a smile he said to me, "Thank you for doing that."
And just like that, my mental yelling stopped. I told him that he was welcome, and by George, I meant it. He WAS welcome. He was welcome to enjoy that spot with his little girl, to watch the plants grow, to breath in their fragrance and remember that good things take time. And so was I. I was welcome to do the same.
Heck. People were also welcome to let their dogs poop there. It's fertilizer, right?
This gardening thing is teaching this crazy novice a whole lot. I am learning that gardening is about perspective, the slow passing of time and the fruits of physical labor. It's about letting things grow at their own pace and accepting that weeds will always find a foothold. But guerilla gardening is different. It's about attitude, getting your cockels up and taking action. It's about laying claim to land that is not your own and planting there; it's about making use of something considered useless; it's about being a city dweller who wants a touch of green amongst their concrete jungle.
But guerilla gardening is also about accepting that your plants are never safe, that they are subject to nature and people and policies and deeds and dogs. People will love what you do, people will hate what you do. People will help you, people will hinder you. Some will pitch in and weed along beside you, and still others will walk their dogs among your evening primrose. Some will add their own plants to your little garden. Others will rip your plants up. Squirrels will dig up your bulbs and eat your seeds. Summer will refuse you rain. City planners will turn your abandoned lot into a Best Buy.
Guerilla gardening is brazen. It has to be, because we live in a brazen world full of brazen people. The odds are stacked against us, but we plant because it is important to us. We accept the good with the bad, the weeds with with flowers, the poop amongst our progress.
Our plants at Vermont and T are not flourishing, my friends, but they are still there and they are alive. That is success. Shameless, impudent success, and for that I am extremely happy.